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Lourdes community honors friend, teammate on Mental Health Awareness Night
Post-Bulletin - 9/24/2023
Sep. 24—ROCHESTER — Nights like Friday are made for football players like AJ Quimby.
The bright lights at Rochester Regional Stadium. A familiar rival, La Crescent-Hokah, on the opposite sideline. Some light rain off and on throughout the first half, then a steady dose of it in the second half.
Quimby, his friends say, would have been the happiest player in Rochester Lourdes' purple and gold. And the fact that the scoreboard read Lourdes 31, La Crescent-Hokah 13, at the final buzzer would've been icing on the cake.
"AJ would have loved being out here tonight," Lourdes junior Zach Guyer said. "He loved the Friday Night Lights, the rain ... he'd have loved this."
Quimby's friends and teammates would have loved to have him there, too. In his absence, they did the next best thing, with coaches, cheerleaders and the Lourdes student section forming a small sea of orange, with T-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, pants and any other orange clothing they could find. Orange was Quimby's favorite color, and making it a noticeable part of the evening was one of many ways the Lourdes community honored him on Mental Health Awareness Night at Rochester Regional Stadium.
Quimby died on May 4 after silently struggling with his mental health.
"Speaking up about how you're feeling, it's huge," said Guyer, one of Quimby's closest friends. "I personally have been through spots like that. Talking to people was the best thing I could do. The best thing to do is just speak up."
What still hurts Quimby's friends, classmates and coaches the most is that they didn't know the depths of his hurt, that he showed no signs.
"Check up on your friends, even if they seem fine," said Silas Pederson, another close friend, classmate and teammate of Quimby. "I had no idea that AJ was in pain at all. If I could go back in time and change it at all, I would in a heartbeat. Keep talking to your friends, make sure they're OK. If they seem distant, text them, call them, go to their house, find out what's happening with them."
Lourdes, in cooperation with La Crescent-Hokah head coach Terry Donovan and his players, also honored Quimby on the opening play of Friday's game. The Lancers received the ball to start the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Lourdes sent just 10 players onto the field, leaving one position open in memory of Quimby, who wore No. 62 — the number printed on the front of many of the orange shirts worn by coaches, cheerleaders and fans.
On the back of those shirts was a message, in all capital letters: "YOU ARE NOT ALONE. WE ARE TOGETHER."
As players and coaches on both teams stood in silence, the play clock ran down and La Crescent-Hokah took a delay of game penalty. Lourdes declined the penalty, then an announcement was made to the crowd about how and why the teams were honoring Quimby.
"I'm just so thankful for the school system for allowing us to do this," Eagles head coach Mike Kesler said, "and to the Quimby family for helping us raise awareness. Our hearts and prayers still go out to them every day. Hopefully we can make a difference. If this affects one kid, one life, if someone makes a call because of this tonight, it's all worth it."
Through the pain of losing a close friend, Guyer and Pederson are still able to smile and laugh when they remember all the good times they had together, and when they see any of Quimby's family — his mom, Jenna; his dad, Dustin; and his siblings, Kaitlyn, Kaydra and Jaxson.
"I've known AJ for 10 years, since first grade. He's always pushed me to do everything he did. He'd always push me in the weight room, push me to go on Black Diamonds (the most difficult ski runs) at Welch Village — a little bit of peer pressure going on there," Pederson said with a laugh. "And yeah, I did (go on the Black Diamonds). He was always the one who ... just such a funny kid. If I was down, he'd always bring me up with his jokes.
"It's been really hard losing him, just really unexpected, on May 4. It's been different, but he's remembered every day."
By all accounts, Quimby loved everything about football, whether it was practicing with his teammates, playing in a game or cheering on his teammates from the sideline.
"He wasn't the biggest guy, but he gave 100% no matter what, whether he was in the game or not, or if he was on scout team during practices, he'd always give 100%," Guyer said. "He was one of my closest friends; I'd only known him for a year, but we still grew close. He was a great person who really drove me to do better."
Quimby fit the mold of a traditional Lourdes lineman — never the biggest guy on the field, but rarely, if ever, outworked.
"AJ was quite a character," Kesler said with a laugh, "and he loved football. It was his favorite thing. He was undersized, playing line for us, but he was always flying around 100 miles per hour. He didn't care, didn't care about his body, he just wanted to play.
"That's what we talk about sometimes, play like your hair's on fire. That was AJ. We loved that about him, loved his energy — sometimes he had a little too much (laughs), and his family would say the same."
When Kesler approached Donovan and the Lancers' coaching staff about honoring Quimby on the first play of Friday's game, there was no hesitation on Donovan's part. In fact, Kesler said, after hearing Quimby's story and how it has affected his friends and fellow Lourdes students, Donovan brought that message to his students at La Crescent-Hokah.
"Coach Donovan, we can't thank him and his team and community enough," Kesler said. "He told me a story about his class (Friday), how they talked about it. He was telling me that they're having a conversation in La Crescent about this. That's the goal, to spread the word and (raise awareness). ... That's the goal, it's just tough.
"We miss AJ every day. His friends, these kids, they're still struggling with it. I'm just really proud of all of them and this school's community for getting on board with this."
Lourdes players and coaches also honored Quimby by raising more than $3,000 and registering to walk as "Team AJ" in this past Saturday's NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Walk at Silver Lake Park in Rochester. It's all in an effort to honor Quimby and to offer support and hope to anyone — adult or child, man or woman — who is struggling with their mental health.
"It means a lot," Guyer said of all of the orange shirts and clothing he saw in the crowd Friday night. "All these people, they really care about AJ. I care about him.
"It sucks to lose someone like that, especially when you know how many people care about him. You just wish he knew that."
Pederson agreed, adding: "Especially now with mental health becoming more prevalent and the suicide rate coming up, there needs to be a lot more changes. (Friday's tribute) will be a start, the NAMI walk will be a start.
"There's still a lot of growing and awareness that needs to be raised for this, but I think we've done well to bring awareness so far."
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